Balance board training has caught on with the general fitness community over the last couple of years as more people embrace the benefits of improved balance.
Physiotherapists, however, have been using balance training equipment such as the physical therapy balance board for decades to both prevent injury and to fast track the rehabilitation process.
These devices capitalize on the instability of the platform in order to train the body’s proprioception, which is the sense of knowing where the body is in space. Improving proprioception allows the body to quickly react to unpredictable movements and recover, rather than damaging itself.
Summary: The Best Physical Therapy Balance Boards
Physio Benefits of Balance Boards
The reason that physiotherapists have embraced balance training is that it is a fundamental way to prevent bodily injury. According to physical therapist Brad Heineck, “a balance board will help to strengthen the ankle, but will also help with the joint position sense – knowing where your ankle is in space.” With ankles injuries being the most common of all sports injuries, it’s clear that a balance board is a fantastic physical therapy tool.
Here are 7 reasons why balance board training and physiotherapy are an ideal match.
1. Balance Board Training Improves Proprioception
Proprioception training is designed to make the proprioception feedback cycle more efficient. This process involves the brain sending messages to the muscles. The joints then move in response and this movement is picked up by the sensory nervous system. The sensory nervous system then reports back to the brain. Through practice, this process can be fine-tuned. When it is, your reaction time will be improved, which will allow you to recover rather than fall.
According to Sports Injury Clinic physio expert, Neal Reynolds, “People often say they have 'weak' ankles but in most cases they have ankles that are in fact “poor proprioceptively” and not weak at all. Proprioception is by far the most effective treatment for treating and is the secret to preventing re-injuries in ankle injuries.”
A 2008 study out of Germany showed that 15-second repetitions of balance board exercises were effective at improving the proprioception feedback cycle, with a resultant lessening of injury.
2. Balance Board Training Strengthens the Ankles
Once you suffer an ankle injury, it takes a lot of work to get the ankle back up to full strength and function. You really need to be doing exercises to get it there. According to Brent Brookbush, of the Brookbush Physiotherapy Institute, “wobble board training is the most effective way to strengthen the ankles following an injury.”
The unstable nature of the balance board platform keeps the muscles and joints under constant tension, forcing them to contract and extend in order to maintain equilibrium. This allows you to strengthen the joints in a unique way.
A 2015 study, published in the International Journal of Risk Safety Management, concluded that ‘balance training is an effective training method for rehabilitation of injured ankles.’
3. Balance Training Improves Coordination
When you are attempting to stay upright on a balance board, you are calling on your body to work together in a way that it rarely has to when on a stable surface. If it doesn’t, you won’t be able to stay upright. Improving your on-board coordination will markedly improve your coordination in every day life. This will, in turn, improve your body awareness. This is your instinctive knowledge of how your limbs are aligned in space. The result will be that you will move through the day more effortlessly, vastly reducing your chance of injury.
According to a 2010 study, published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Therapy, “balance exercises performed simultaneously with reaction tasks, represent an effective means of improving neuromuscular performance.”
4. Balance Training Enhances Joint Stability
Regular balance training will make the key joints of the body – ankles, knees, hips, shoulders – far more stable. This will, in turn, help to ward off a whole range of joint-related problems such as ankle sprains, shoulder joint dislocations, and ACL knee injuries.
According to John Mayhew, senior physiotherapist at Sydney Physiotherapy in Sydney, Australia, “using a wobble board for just 10 minutes every day will be enough to build the stability that your joints need to withstand the trials of life.”
5. Balance Training is Fun and Challenging
The key to long-term success for physical therapy patients is regularity of movement. However, many of the traditional floor-based exercises that physios prescribe are just downright boring. This makes it difficult for a patient to find the motivation to keep them up. Exercising on the Balance Board, however, is a fun and challenging way to perform your rehab.
The internal challenge of balancing on an unstable platform can be addiction forming. This is a good thing when you consider that we can never get enough balance training. According to Dr. Mayhew, “most of my patients report back to me that they love the challenge of the balance board. It keeps them motivated to try to improve, which means that they will stick at it longer than if they were just doing the exercises on the floor.”
6. Balance Board Training Brings Pain Relief
When you train on a balance board you increase the blood supply to the affected area. This brings immediate benefit in terms of pain relief by delivering healing nutrients to the cells. Venous and lymphatic drainage will also be improved as a result of the enhanced movement that pumps the excess fluid away from the area. In addition, adhesions that are normally caused by keeping the area immobile will be reduced. If you have a pre-existing adhesion, exercising on a wobble board can improve your range of motion by loosening scar tissue.
7. Balance Board Training Benefits the Elderly
It is vital that seniors have access to a means of building up the strength in their joints that is very low impact and gradual. Balance Board training offers the ideal solution. Balance board training is graduated and starts at a very accessible level, where the elderly patient holds the hand of the physio for balance. She can then work on a series of progressive exercises designed to build up her joint strength, proprioception, and coordination. All of this can be done without any impact on the joints at all.
A 2013 study evaluated the effects of a program of balance training in elderly patients with conventional proprioception training. The study involved 32 people with an average age of 67 years. The participants were divided into two groups with treatments taking place twice per week. In total, there were 10 sessions for each group. The conclusion reached by the researchers was that proprioceptive training with balance proved to be more efficient than conventional proprioceptive training in elderly subjects in relation to balance, flexibility, mobility and falls.
What Types of Injuries Are Best Treated With a Balance Board?
Balance board training is the most effective rehabilitative treatment for ankle injuries, which account for the majority of sporting injuries. A study out of the University of Wisconsin is just one of many that has analyzed the effect of a regular balance training program on ankle injury. This study documented that a balance training program, implemented throughout a sports season, will reduce the rate of ankle sprains by 38% in high school basketball and soccer players.
A major problem for people who suffer an ankle injury is the recurrence of the sprain. A major study conducted in 2008 concluded that six weeks of balance training, undertaken soon after the initial sprain, would substantially reduce the rate of recurrence.
Balance Board training is also a very effective rehabilitative tool for knee injuries. The most common knee injury is an ACL injury. A 1996 study evaluated the effectiveness of balance board exercises on noncontact ACL injury rates in male soccer players. The study reported significant, almost seven-fold, decreases in ACL injury risk.
Physical Therapy Balance Board Reviews
The Fitter First Wobble Board is a wooden design that comes in a 20-inch diameter. It provides an adjustable platform that can be set at 10, 12 and 15-degree angles. Adjustment is done by way of a simple spin of the bottom sphere. This board has an impressive weight capacity of 350 pounds, which allows you to gradually add resistance onto the board without overloading it. The size of this board is about four inches wider than you’d normally find, giving it more stability and easier balancing.
Value for money
The Fitter First 20 Inch Wobble Board retails for around $80. This puts it at the high end of the market. However, this board is larger than most others and features a triple angle adjustment that you won’t find elsewhere.
Fitter First boards are crafted from Baltic Birch. The disc is three-quarters of an inch thick. I was impressed with the strength and durability of the board. However, I did find that the laminate spray on the board’s surface made it difficult to maintain my foothold when I was exercising in bare feet.
The Isokinetics Balance Board is an adjustable board that provides two degrees of angle – 10 and 15 degrees. There are four holes around the outer edges to allow for the use of a resistance band, which is a very handy feature. This board can handle weight up to 300 pounds. The board is 16.5 inches in diameter and 3 inches high. The unit comes with a blue base adaptor, which can be fitted over the existing center cone. This elevates the board, providing a more challenging workout.
Value for money
This plastic board has a very attractive price point at under $20. For an adjustable board of high-quality construction and with the facility to add in resistance bands, this makes for a very good deal
This board is made from polyethylene plastic, which is a very strong and durable, yet lightweight material. The surface is textured which allows for a better grip.
The TheraBand Wobble Board is made of black molded plastic. It features a unique tactile surface on the top and an anti-skid surface on the bottom. The board is 16 1/8 inches in diameter and features a 22-degree angle of deflection.
Value for money
The TheraBand Board is available for around $70. This puts it at the higher end of the market for a plastic board.
The Board is constructed of heavy duty black molded plastic. The board design features a deep groove pattern, which helps with grip, especially when you use it bare footed.